Saturday, August 01, 2009

Guest Blog: 7 tips on Low Budget Filmmaking by Joyful Day Productions

Submitted by: Joy Sudduth and Dana Hana

Filmmaking is an amazing and wonderful creative process! It is also a business and our examples are those who do it wonderfully and efficiently: The "one take" Clint Eastwood; the Scorsese epic creating machine; and the Coen brothers daring and repeat comedic successes.

Filmmaking, however, is also a business…..and when you are starting your career it is immensely important to be aware of this fact. And even more so if you are operating on a budget. And most of us beginning, mid-career, and even seasoned producers, have a STRICT budget to meet.

We all want to make a high quality epic in 3 days for $5,000. Unfortunately, that doesn’t usually happen. Not that we know of…….It is important to know your project in great detail and know what it will take to get it done. And how do you know that? If you don’t have prior films of your own to use as a template, do your RESEARCH!

Find out how long it takes to shoot a 4-5 or 30 or 90 minute film. Know how many scenes you have to shoot and have a reasonable estimate for how long each shot will take. Then map out your shoot days and stick to the schedule. This will keep you on schedule and help keep you within your budget by avoiding the ever so costly additional shoot days!

Study budgets and set a reasonable budget in advance. Low balling doesn’t work in this industry. If it’s going to cost $10,000 to finish your project, knocking 30% off at the beginning won’t make it so. Know the crew/equipment/number of locations/cast/catering/post production that you will need and set your budget accordingly.

Research those cost ranges for your area, make calls, go online, consult friends/family and industry contacts (if any) to determine and use your most reasonably priced (if not free) resources.

Save, save, save where you can! If you can get a $1200 cinematographer for $900 and can afford it; then book him/her! But don’t estimate your cinematographer at $600 /day in the hopes that they will love the project/the exposure etc so much that they’ll forget their rate. They won’t!

Worst case scenario, you will go over budget! Or shall we say, most commonplace scenario….
Keep that in mind and discuss the option with your producing partners or executive producers. Do all you can to stay on track financially but there will always be unforeseen costs! It’s like home ownership, add 10% for incidentals and extras if you can!

We have always come in within our production costs while shooting, but in post production/marketing and packaging/DVD reproduction/festival submissions/and general grueling labor, we have always continued to invest in our projects!

This does not mean that you should wait and wait forever to procure funds in order to shoot, but there is a reason so many films are in post production for years! It is more common than not for a film to be completely shot and never finished because there’s no funding for post production.

Have your editing funded so you can at the very least finish your film and market it to raise more money for packaging or marketing or festival submissions. If you shoot a film and never have a viewable version you might as well have not shot your film.

Work with people who are compatible with you! And once you find that crew; STICK WITH THEM! I [Joy] made it a project while on the set of Steven Spielberg’s "Catch Me If You Can" to see how often he used similar crew and you would be amazed at how often he uses the same crew. For example, he used the same music supervisor from "ET", to "Jurassic Park" to "Catch Me If You Can".

Valuable lesson: Find people who believe in what you are doing, and the stories you are telling, and who appreciate your work ethic and technique. It will simplify your journey and create productive and supportive work environment! And a happy set is a productive set!

As an executive producer/producer you may be running on 2 hours of sleep for several nights, I know we were and our longest film to date is 15 minutes! Be prepared to be exhausted and be prepared to WORK THROUGH IT. There will always be challenges: a location falls through; talent breaks a leg or even worse books a higher paying job or doesn’t know any lines; or a piece of equipment cannot be found. All obstacles are opportunities! And when you view them that way, hurdles become anecdotes!

We’ve all been on sets and shared amongst ourselves “I’ll never work with them again”. Many of our opportunities have come from people being on set and seeing our commitment to delivering what we promise, and wanting to hire us. Pay people when you say you will, wrap when you say you will, if you promise to give copies of the project, give copies of the project. You will establish a reputation as a professional and people will seek you out for work, and in a town like this, there is nothing better.

There will always be stress associated with a creative business venture. The difference is how you handle it. And a smile goes a long way toward dissolving tension, and lower tension lowers defenses and helps everyone get back to the task at hand, making a great project!

We've made 3 films and were recently selected as finalists in Allstate's Be Reel competition. Visit Joyful Day Productions to see our work.

Thank you Alice!



Anonymous said...

These tips are good for a new filmmaker. People just don't realize how much work goes into the process. Will you be doing more guest blogs?

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